Last year, Matt Hornbuckle and Kirk Keel launched a Kickstarter project for a line of men's shirts called Stantt, promising a better fit based on patent-pending DataFit technology. Their campaign fell short. Undeterred, they gleaned data, revamped and tried again. The second time, they were hugely successful, raising $120,195--more than eight times their goal.

Kickstarter is about to turn five years old, and while there is all kinds of advice out there for project creators, it's rare to be able to set aside the guesses, and compare two different campaigns for the exact same project. I talked with Hornbuckle recently about what he and Keel learned, and why their second campaign succeeded after the first one failed. Here's their top advice:

1. Keep things clear and simple

In the first campaign, Stantt offered both polo-style shirts and button-ups. For the second campaign, they dropped the polos. This meant fewer choices for backers, and lower start-up costs for them. They took clarity to heart when designing their pitch, as well.

"We focused a lot on trying to bring in the right visuals ... rather than a lot of text," Hornbuckle explained. "It made scrolling through our page and understanding the story easier and faster."

2. Ask for less money

First time out, Stantt tried to raise $60,000. They came pretty close--$50,454--but there is no "almost" in Kickstarter, so they got nothing. The second time, they were more strategic, setting the goal at just $15,000. They needed less money, since they were only offering one kind of shirt, but they also figured they might raise that amount quickly, and have a shot at going far beyond--a correct guess, as things turned out.

"People don't want to be part of a failed goal," Hornbuckle said. "I think this also led to an intrigue factor, where people clicked out of curiosity about this campaign that's at 200 or 300 percent of its goal."

3. Tell a great story

This is classic Kickstarter advice, but Hornbuckle and Keel learned to make the story about their backers, not themselves. That meant talking more about the shirts, and saving the story of their technology for later.

"We focused a lot on ensuring there was a peak in positive emotion at the beginning [of their video] ... then dropping into a valley by bringing in the villain (small, medium, and large sizing), then bringing the viewer back to a more positive place with the solution/hero (our new approach to fit)," Hornbuckle said.

4. Focus on the consumer

Kickstarter is first and foremost an ecommerce site. Hornbuckle and Keel had worked together at Johnson & Johnson (on brands like Bengay, Neosporin, Aveeno and Lubriderm), so they thought they understood consumer behavior. It turned out, they had a lot to learn--again, especially about focusing on the customer.

"We talked to a lot of guys to understand what really mattered to them in apparel, and it came down to style, quality and fit," Hornbuckle said. "We shifted the entire order of our communication and added some sections (style) in the second campaign to reflect this order, and ended up putting our technology detail towards the bottom of the page."

5. Aim for big bursts. 

About 10 million people visit Kickstarter each month looking for projects to support, and that kind of organic traffic counted for half of Stantt's backers. The key to reaching them, however, is to get featured on the homepage. Doing that in turn requires you to create a flood of support in a short period of time.

Just before the second campaign, therefore, Keel "spent two grueling nights," recording individual video messages for each of the 480 people who had supported Stantt the first time out. The hope was that many would contribute early, and thus give Stantt the boost it needed to be featured. It worked, and they spent 9 days on the front page of the site. (First time out, they only reached the front page twice.)

6. Do your own PR.

After organic traffic, the second major source of Stantt's backers (36 percent) was from media reports. It's therefore crucial to publicize your project. Hornbuckle said he and Keel "spent 90 percent of our time," contacting media, which resulted in mentions on TechCrunch, Fast Company, Business Insider and others.

"There's a lot of interest in new ideas, and there are people who want to help support you," he said. But, he added, he had to get over his fear of rejection. "I reached out to Inc. a bunch of times."

7. Data is your friend.

The most important source of data Stantt had was their failed project. Still, Hornbuckle and Keel spent countless hours scouring Kickstarter for similar ventures, to learn what worked.

The most useful off-site data tool they found, he said, was Kicktraq, which provides free tracking data on every project on Kickstarter. (Although the Stantt guys didn't use them, you can find a lot of other useful tools, here.)

8. Love your supporters.

Like any new venture, the people behind a successful campaign need to form strong relationships with their customers. For example, creators get a lot of individual questions. It's important to find a way to respond quickly.

"It's really a full-time job," Stantt said. "Our goal was to respond to any question or comment within 24 hours.  Also, we got a lot of great input during the campaign from supporters, and we made some changes while the campaign was live," such as adding a shipping option for Canadian backers.

9. Find cross-promotions.

Hornbuckle and Keel kept an eye out for other projects that might target the same type of backers, and worked out deals to email each others' backers. In the end, they worked with three brands: Parke Denim, Rossling Watches and Lexell Watches. This tactic resulted in 45 backers, which represented 5 percent of their total.

While this was useful, Hornbuckle warned, "These need to be done tactfully because you don't want to bombard your backers with promotions after they've generously supported your project."

10. Get feedback first.

It's hard to be objective about your own work, especially if you've spent weeks or more putting a project together before you launch. Thus, Hornbuckle said it became clear in retrospect that they should have asked others for more feedback before launching. (There is a "preview" option when creating a Kickstarter draft that allows you to share a link with others before your project goes live.)

"We made the mistake of launching [the first time] after getting only minimal input," Hornbuckle said. "The second time, we found a small handful of people we trust and got their feedback on what we could have done better."

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Published on: Feb 17, 2014
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